The Quest for Women's Rights in the Bolshevik Revolution

The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, led by the likes of Krúpskaya and Samoilova, was a groundbreaking chapter in history, marked by their pioneering efforts for gender equality alongside the quest for socialism, rejecting the label of “feminist”.

The Quest for Women's Rights in the Bolshevik Revolution
Bolshevik women's newspaper 'Rabotnitsa' played a pivotal role in advancing the cause of women's emancipation in early 20th century Russia.

Our story is an unusual one, filled with the unyielding spirit of revolution and the pioneering push for gender equality. Forget the well-trodden paths of history; this is a tale of the Bolshevik Revolution, as seen through the lens of Karl Marx's intriguing notion: “The degree of progress of a society can be measured by the equality between men and women in it.”

Picture a world where inequality reigned supreme, where the very fabric of society was woven with threads of discrimination. The old Russian social structure, under the watchful eye of the Tsars, was deeply divided and unforgiving. Women were relegated to the shadows, with no access to public education and a life limited to domestic chores. The term “batrachka” referred to the peasant women hired as temporary wives, only to be discarded when their usefulness waned. In this world, the Orthodox church held a monopoly over registrations and education, while divorce was but a fantasy for men.

Adding fuel to the fire were the working women, who, though somewhat emancipated from family ties, found themselves shackled by the chains of industrial employment. No maternity leaves, no special protection, and workdays that stretched to an exhausting fourteen hours, seven days a week. The struggle was palpable, the injustice glaring, and the winds of change were swirling.

In this backdrop, the Bolsheviks emerged, radicalizing Western socialist traditions and recognizing the unique oppression faced by women in a class-based society. They understood that the emancipation of women was inexorably linked to the broader workers' struggle for socialism. The Bolsheviks began to recruit women workers actively and integrate them into their leadership. The women, however, were not waiting for a formal invitation; they had already joined the movement before it even had a party name.

Names like Nadezhda Krúpskaya and Concordia Samoilova were leading the charge. Krúpskaya, Lenin's companion, clandestinely directed correspondence between Marxist exiles and related groups in Russia from 1900 to 1905. Samoilova served on the editorial board of Pravda when it was founded, and on International Women's Day in 1914, they launched “Rabotnitsa,” a newspaper for women, with a circulation of 12,000 copies.

But as fate would have it, World War I forced the Bolsheviks to go underground, temporarily silencing the voices fighting for gender equality. In the years leading up to the revolution, Inessa Armand represented the Bolsheviks on the international stage, promoting their opposition to the war to further the revolution.

The February Revolution, which actually began on March 8, 1917, per the new calendar, was sparked by the celebration of World Women's Day in Petrograd. The adoption of the Western calendar in Russia is attributed to the “October Revolution,” now celebrated on November 7.

The Bolsheviks, resurfacing after the February Revolution, reopened Pravda and Rabotnitsa. One of their pivotal battles was to prevent the dismissal of married women from heavy industry jobs in response to an employment crisis.

Fast-forward to today, and many refer to Rabotnitsa's line as “feminist.” However, its leaders staunchly rejected this label. To them, being “feminist” was a bourgeois notion, too focused on ideological change in favor of gender equality under capitalism. Instead, they considered their struggle for women's emancipation as a fundamental duty that defined their Marxist identity. Rejecting the term “feminist” was more than just a word; it was a statement that their fight transcended any specific movement.

And there you have it, a unique slice of history where the Bolsheviks took up the banner for gender equality alongside their quest for socialism. The story of the Bolshevik Revolution is not just about class struggle; it's also a story of fighting for a more equal society, one where the progress of a society can truly be measured by the equality between men and women in it.

In-text Citation: Pablo, Óscar de. ‘De La Batrachka a La Delegatka | Óscar de Pablo’. Revista de La Universidad de México, Accessed 7 Nov. 2023.